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Wood-burning desire - how a stove is more efficient


Carmel McCarthy

Carmel McCarthy

Carmel McCarthy

The appeal of an open fire is a primal, deep-rooted thing. But whatever about tradition and no matter how pretty they are to look at, they also create a large amount of dirt and they're not terribly efficient. With your average open fire, only 25pc of what's being burnt is coming out as heat into the room. For increasing numbers of Irish people, the cleaner wood-burning stove, which has the pleasing aesthetics of an open fire but with far greater efficiency, has become the stylish alternative

They've enjoyed a huge surge in popularity of late, becoming a must-have addition for chic homes and certainly, there's a lot to love about them. They look great and, in addition to being a design focal point in any room, they run at an 80pc efficiency, which means lower fuel bills.

If you are considering investing in one, there are a couple of practicalities to pin down and one of the first things to consider is if your house is suitable for a wood stove. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), any house that has the space for the stove and the associated items is suitable; the size you choose depends on your house's heating requirements and this will vary individually. There are several useful stove calculators online to help you determine what size you need to heat your home.

There are two main types available and they can be either free-standing or an insert. A dry stove is for room heating only, while a wet stove has a built-in back boiler, so you can heat radiators and water. How they work is that they release 20pc of radiant heat to the room via a transparent front. The dry stove distributes the remaining 80pc through a hot-air fan and a wet stove uses that 80pc to heat the rads.

SEAI stresses something to consider if you're thinking of installing a wet stove is that you'll need access to the heating pipes - if you're connecting a wet stove to an existing back boiler in a fireplace, this is less of an issue. Dry stoves, because they don't have any connection to the heating system, are easier to put in and are suitable for heating a single room or an open-plan area.

One of the biggest dilemmas for people when they decide to get a wood stove is what room they should put it in. According to William Fenton of Fenton Fires in Greystones, Co Wicklow, if you're picking between two rooms that both have chimneys, you should always opt for the room you use most.

"If you have an extremely formal room, sometimes a wood-burning stove isn't the piece of furniture for that room," he says. "They would tend to more the comfortable den sort of room, where people spend a lot of time, as opposed to the out-and-out formal room that's just used on Sundays and at Christmas."

While there's a widespread belief that it is better and more cost-effective to opt for a wet stove, which will heat the water, Fenton says that this is not necessarily the case. "A boiler stove uses an awful lot more timber and wood than a wood-heating dry stove," he says. "There is a thing out there that it's a waste of time not putting a boiler in because people believe that they're going to get that additional heat for nothing. That is not the case. You draw more heat off; you use more fuel."

Joe Jennings of Bell Stoves, which is based in Kinsealy, Co Dublin and is the only authorised agent of Clearview stoves in Ireland, agrees. "The boiler stove is definitely a lifestyle choice. It depends on someone being there all day to feed it," he says. "With a boiler stove that's hooked up to radiators, there is a perception that it's cheap, it's free fuel, it's free heat, but it isn't."

But whether you decide on a dry or a wet stove, there's no question that wood is cheaper than other fuels. According to SEAI, the delivered energy cost per kWh is only 5.99c for wood in comparison with 7.6c for natural gas and 64.75c for electricity. If you have a wood supply available to you, this means little to no cost and even if you are purchasing wood, either logs or pellets, there are savings to be made here.

The kind of wood used in wood-burning stoves is 'seasoned' or wood that has been cut down two summers ago, and it's more expensive to buy than wet wood. "€300 worth of timber in a Clearview stove should really last you 12 weeks, but again, if you bought €300 worth of wet timber and stacked and stored it, you could get a season out of that," points out Bell Stoves' Joe Jennings.

But there is also the possibility of people becoming a little cavalier in their attitude to heating because of their perceived fuel-cost savings, according to William Fenton. "They'll say they're only burning only two-thirds of what they burnt and now they're leaving all the doors open in the house. Because of the value they feel they're getting out of it, they use them a lot more," he says.

According to SEAI, a wood stove typically costs between €2,000 and €8,000 supplied and installed, and you should always check with the supplier if the cost of the flue is included in the price.

Their longevity is in the region of 12-15 years, but it really depends on how you use the stove. It's also worth considering investing in a reputable brand because you'll have the guarantee of being able to pick up spare parts if necessary. Norwegian stove makers JØtul for example, will have spare parts for 10 years after a stove goes out of production.

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From the green perspective, wood-burning stoves are considered carbon neutral, have very low emissions and the wood ash is good for planting and gardening. When it comes to servicing them, it's recommended that you get this done annually, and the chimney cleaned.

One of the disadvantages of having a wood-burning stove is that you need somewhere to store the timber. In suburban areas, where garden size might be very small, this could prove problematic. Another issue is that the demand for them has seen a lot of models coming on the market; people are seeing competitive prices and purchasing wood-burning stoves without first doing the research to see if that particular stove can be installed in their homes.

This means that there are a lot of unused wood-burning stoves sitting in sheds around the country. The professional advice is to get an overall costing for the fittings before you purchase. "You're better off making sure you have your fitting lined up before you buy the stove," says William Fenton.

Buying a wood-burning stove is a relatively big decision, but besides the potential money-saving aspect, their legions of fans swear by the cosy feeling that one brings to a home. "Not getting all romantic about it, we are drawn to a open fire and the there's a different feel to wood-burning than there is to oil or gas," says Joe Jennings.

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